Roughly six months ago, Twitter covertly hired someone to be “head of product for conversational safety.” The person hired, some are suggesting, seems underqualified and her ideas could be seen as controversial depending on where you stand on the issue of censorship.
Twitter hired Christine Su for the role. She is a young American “activist entrepreneur.” Before joining Twitter she ran her startup called PastureMap, which helps ranchers choose more ecofriendly grazing practices.
Su is an odd choice for the role considering she has master's degrees in agriculture and land use. According to the blog Protocol, the position could have probably been likely suited for someone with “experience in and out of academia, politics, and programming; an impenetrable wall of media-savvy; close ties to the exec suite,” especially since it's currently one of Twitter's most important jobs.
But, she has experience and interest “in mission-driven tech work for years,” and that was apparently enough for Twitter to hire her.
“As a queer woman of color who is an Asian American in tech in rural America, that experience is a very intersectional one. I've had plenty of experiences moving through spaces where I wanted more safety,” Su said.
Her apparent qualification or lack thereof aside, her ideas might be even more controversial, especially in this age of mass censorship.
According to Su, monitoring, reporting, and moderating questionable content is not enough. It does not address the harm done to the groups of people targeted, nor does it prevent the harm from happening again. For that reason, procedural and transformative justice is at the core of her dream of safer Twitter.
“Transformative justice” involves providing an alternative option to repair the damage that has been done and prevent it from happening again, instead of merely punishing the offender. Procedural justice involves creating rules that would make it harder for harm to occur in the first place.
Su wants her team to create and implement tools that provide avenues for people to apologize, forgive, and de escalate situations.
“The point is not to make the entire world a safe space: That's not possible. The point is to empower people and communities to have the tools to heal harm themselves and to prevent harm to themselves and put them in control,” she said.
Some will hail these measures as a step towards a “Utopian version of Twitter.” However, to proponents of free speech, Su's plans seem Orwellian. According to Reagan Rose, a journalist at Not the Bee, Twitter wants to control the public conversation.
“And if you just so happen to accidentally step outside the boundaries of the approved public conversation, Twitter will be there to help you apologize and re-educate you so you can learn to be a productive member of this brave new world,” Rose wrote.